Essential Gear for National Park Day Hikes

These are the hiking essentials to add to your packing list before your next National Park adventure.

Want to know what you'll need for a day of hiking in a National Park or wilderness area? I packed for an adventure like that recently, and wanted to share my most important suggestions of what to bring. Keep your gear list as short and lightweight as possible, but don't hit the trailhead without these important pieces.


An ultralight day backpack that can handle all your other day hiking gear without chaffing or weighing you down is one of the most essential items when spending a day exploring national parks. Stash some extra food for the road, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper in there, plus toss in any trash you find or create so you can leave no trace along the way. Some daypack favorites you should check out include Mystery Ranch and Osprey. Just be sure to find the right fit.

Hiking Shoes

Depending on the intensity, duration, and type of terrain you'll be covering, you should invest in either a good pair of hiking boots or trail runners. Quality hikers can save your feet from painful blisters and overturned ankles, which could ruin an otherwise fun outing. I sported the Danner Mountain 600s on my recent trip, and they kept my feet cool, comfortable, and dry on every day trip.

Hiking Socks

Along with proper footwear, a moisture-wicking, quick-drying pair of hiking socks that still leaves room for your feet to breathe inside your shoes is a must. I always opt for a thin pair of merino socks from companies such as Voormi or Smartwool. They'll do the trick in both blazing hot and freezing cold weather.

Hydration System

Hiking dry, dusty mountain ranges for hours on end, especially in the summertime, will leave you parched and possibly even dehydrated. It's important to make sure you have enough extra water to make it through the backcountry, but water bottles and even bladders can really weigh you down. If you're hiking in an area with freshwater lakes and streams, consider a water filter or purifier bottle like the Grayl GeoPress. I was incredibly impressed with the quality, ease of use, and excellent flavor mine produced after dipping it into cold alpine lakes. At just under a pound, it weighs less than a single plastic bottle and provides an endless supply of water free from particulates, viruses, and bacteria.

Insect Repellent

If you're hiking anywhere remotely close to water, you'll want to add bug spray, wipes, or bracelets to your pack. Also be on alert for ticks and other dangerous insects in the area and season you're hiking.


You never know what you'll need to cut, unscrew, or pry open on a miles-long trek through vast national park country. A heavy-duty multi-tool equipped with a sharp pocket knife, pliers, and more could be a lifesaver.

Sun Protection

Even in chilly winter weather, the sun can beat down and harm your skin. Slap on some sunscreen and lip balm with of SPF 30+ and consider a longsleeve t-shirt with built-in UPF protection. A lightweight, breathable hat and sunglasses are also a great addition to prevent sunburn and sun damage.

Bear Spray

In many national parks, you're at risk of running into black bears and grizzlies, so bear spray is incredibly important. Some parks and nearby outfitters even allow you to rent it by the day or week so you're not left toting the can home with you.

This essentials list should have you covered for most day hikes you encounter in national parks, but some other items to consider if you're heading into treacherous country or uncertain conditions include a headlamp, first aid kit, trekking poles, fire starter, rain jacket , and gaiters.